Creative process

Experiments with… painting with food

As an artist who works in watercolour but also enjoys a good cuppa while I paint, I have lost count of the number of times I have drank my paint water or dipped my paintbrush in my tea. So for this creative experiment I had a go at painting with different foods. Bear with me on this one, I know it sounds a bit weird but it was really good fun.

Don’t drink the paint water

If you follow me on social media you’ll know from my work in progress posts and stories that I almost always have a mug of tea on my desk when I’m painting. I’m a tea enthusiast, so it could be any kind of tea – mint, fruit, green, chai, classic Yorkshire builder’s tea – and it’s usually in my trusty Pencil Girl mug.

Given the proximity of my mug and paint water jar on my desk, it’s no surprise that I accidentally (and regularly) realise that I’ve dipped my paintbrush in my tea or taken a sip of my paint water. Trust me, the latter is definitely the worst of the two.

In fact, back in March 2019 I took part in the #MarchMeetTheMaker challenge on Instagram and the prompt for day 23 was top tip or advice. I posted this.

View this post on Instagram

MARCH MEET THE MAKER Here’s another bundle of posts for @joannehawker ‘s #MarchMeetTheMaker challenge. 🖌️ DAY 23 top tip or advice. I’m lucky enough to have had some awesome advice from amazing people that has helped me with my creative process, my business and life in general. So I guess the best advice is to surround yourself with people that inspire and support you, and to try to help others where you can. That and don’t drink the paint water. 💙 DAY 24 customers/feedback. Some of my favourite things to work on are bespoke commissions. They’re usually really personal to the customer and that means you often get really lovely feedback. Like a recent commission that made the customer well up, but that one's a gift for someone else and hasn’t gone public yet. So instead I’m sharing this pet portrait I did a while back for @beckyjjones of her gorgeous doggo Grace, because when I gave Becky the framed painting I also got to cuddle the doggo. 🖨️ DAY 25 how it’s made. I'm lucky enough to be able to produce my own giclée art prints at home using this absolute beast of a printer by @canonuk – it uses 12 colours and prints on a roll 24 inches wide. Having my own printer means that I can be as picky as I want about colours and print stock as I need it. The only downside is that it takes up a chunk of the living room and replacing all 12 cartridges is hella expensive! . . . #marchmeetthemaker #mmtm #imadethis #makersgonnamake #art #illustration #design #sidehustle #mysmallbusiness #behindthescenes #bristoletsyteam #tribeaisthetica #advice #toptip #dontdrinkthepaintwater #customer #feedback #commission #petportrait #doggo #canonpro2000 #canon #giclee #printing #howitsmade

A post shared by Jem ✏️ Jem Loves to Draw (@jemlovestodraw) on

Earlier this week I was working on a painting and just as I stopped myself from dipping my paintbrush in my tea (and it wasn’t the first time that evening) I thought to myself – “I wonder what it looks like if you paint with tea?”

Well, here we are.

Mixing up colours

For this creative experiment I started by making myself a cup of classic Yorkshire tea (no milk, I’m a weirdo) and deliberately left a bit at the end to go cold. I also mixed up some instant coffee in a ramekin. I hate coffee, but my partner drinks it so we always have some in the house.

Then I raided the spice drawer. We eat a lot of Indian and Asian food, which means that I know first-hand that turmeric stains everything it touches – so that was an obvious first choice. I also grabbed some cinnamon and paprika, then mixed them up into pastes with a little bit of water.

For a wildcard entry, I grabbed some tomato ketchup from the fridge and watered it down with some water from the kettle. And being as I had finished most of my first cuppa, I mixed up two more types of tea – some loose leaf Moroccan mint green tea and some Matcha powder.

The results

I ended up with a very earthy palette of warm oranges, reds, browns and greens – and quite a variety of textures.

I’m used to watercolours, so the easiest things to paint with were the things that dissolved into a smooth liquid – the teas, coffee and turmeric. They gave a smooth colour and it was easier to make the colour lighter or darker by varying the amount of water.

The coarser spices – cinnamon and paprika – didn’t dissolve very well and resulted in a grainy finish, rather than an even colour. The cinnamon did smell really good though. The same cannot be said for the tomato ketchup, which was pretty weird all round.

Photo of my hand painting using paprika food 'paint'

And now to answer the question that I know you’re all thinking – but what did the food ‘paint’ water taste like? Not great, but nowhere near as bad as actual paint water.

Fancy having a go?

Much like my earlier experiments with salt and watercolours, this was part art project and part science experiment. It would be a great activity to try with kids. They could mix their own paints and paint something, then ask people to guess what foods they used to paint it.

Here are a couple of tips if you fancy having a go:

  1. Find a range of different food paints to experiment with. Think spices, drinks and sauces.
  2. Mix up your colours with a small amount of water to start with, then gradually add more water as you go along.
  3. If you don’t have a paint palette, you can use jars, lids and plates to mix your colours.
  4. Create a swatch chart by writing the name of the food in waterproof pen and painting over the top.
  5. The most important tip of all. Don’t drink the paint water!

This series of ‘Experiments with…’ blogs is based around one of my goals for 2020 – to experiment more and develop my creative practice. This means trying out new techniques, using new materials and making new products. The hope is that I’ll develop as an artist, learn new skills and have a lot of fun in the process. My aim is to try one new thing each month and blog about the process as well as the results.

You can keep up with my experiments in the creative process section of my blog. If you’ve got any suggestions for experiments that you think I should try, please get in touch.